Barney Bubbles: A wizard, a true star

Like THE LOOK, my new book Reasons To Be Cheerful explores a visual aspect of post-war pop culture; rather than fashion, design is scrutinised this time via the life and work of the visionary Barney Bubbles

Bubbles was as responsible for communicating the look of popular music as any number of fashionistas, and is identified in the book by Peter Saville as ” the missing link between pop and culture”. 

//Barney Bubbles painting a portrait of Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs 1982// 

Although he opted for anonymity for much of his working life, accessibility was all to the man born Colin Fulcher; after all, he was a product of the great art-school beat boom and cut his teeth working for Sir Terence Conran, the person who spurred on the democratisation of design in Britain in the latter half of the 20th century.

//Hawklords booklet 1978 + The Image poster 1966// 

Bubbles art-directed for a staggering array of musicians and performers, from raga rock hippies Quintessence, street-level space-rockers Hawkwind and spin-off apocalyptic outfit Hawklords to Two-Tone pioneers The Specials and electro-popsters Depeche Mode.

<a href=""></a>
//Ghost Town by The Specials 1981// 

He also honed the visual appeal of three singular artists who broke through in the late 70s: Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe.

//Your Generation by Generation X 1977 + I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass 1978//

Working with razor-sharp rock and roll manager and Stiff/Radar/F-Beat operator Jake Riviera, Bubbles’ integrated approach included not only designing the sleeve but also directing the shoot for Costello’s landmark debut My Aim Is True, which transformed the former country-rocker into “Buddy Holly on acid” with a visual match for the persona which inhabited the album’s bitter and twisted tracks.  

//Contact sheet section for My Aim Is True cover 1977 (c) Keith Morris Estate// 

//Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll1977 + Watching The Detectives 1977//

Ian Dury’s polio-stricken frame and jumble sale chic had underscored his presence in pub-rock outfit Kilburn & The High Roads, but it was Bubbles’ application of the day-glo aesthetic to the sleeve of the extraordinary New Boots & Panties!! and his considered photographic cropping, illustrative strengths and typographic arrangements which elevated Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, the Blockhead logo and the Ian Dury Songbook.

//Advert for La Dusseldorf 1978 + The Ian Dury Songbook 1979//

For Lowe, Bubbles realised a series of striking images, not least the van Doesburg-quoting cover of I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass and the sleeve of Jesus Of Cool. On the back of the American edition (renamed Pure Pop For Now People)  Lowe is cast as a warped all-round entertainer in a green sharkskin “Riddler” suit.

//Back covers: New Boots & Panties!! 1977 + Pure Pop For Now People 1978// 

This was made by Riviera’s first wife Antoinette Sales, a fashion illustrator and stage-wear designer who also collaborated with Lowe’s wife Carlene Carter and has more recently worked with Boudoir Queen‘s Dawn Denton and is soon to team up with South Paradiso’s Romulus Von Stezelberger.

//Forever Now by The Psychedelic Furs 1982 + Unavailable by Clover 1977// 

Bubbles was to continue supplying stunning visuals for all three artists – and many more besides  – until his death in 1983.Peter Saville – who was at the London launch of the book last week along with the likes of Lowe, Riviera and Dury’s son Baxter – believes that exposure to Bubbles’  ouevre will spark a new direction in graphics among contemporary fashion designers over the coming months. 

Read all about the lasting influence of Barney Bubbles in Reasons To Be Cheerful, available now from amazon and in all good book stores.

Tim B. said,

November 27, 2008 @ 1:37 am

Congrats on the new book Paul! I’ll be on the lookout for it.

Tim B. said,

November 27, 2008 @ 1:38 am

Any publishing date for the US?

rockpopfashion said,

November 27, 2008 @ 8:25 am

Hi Tim

It is available for under $30 on which is a pretty good price. It was due out in the US this spring – we are currently checking out ways to make this happen.



Planet Mondo said,

November 27, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

Definitely one for the Christmas list – loved The Look and am sure this will be just as tasty..saw the feature in Mojo btw good work!

chris said,

March 17, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

I have a copy of this in front of me, Barney’s work is fantastic inspiration and the book is a great insight into his life and works.

Philip Brophy said,

January 29, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

Hi, Paul

I’m just writing to say how much I enjoyed your book. I’m holed up in a studio in Paris and finally got time to read it – which I did virtually straight in 2 sittings. It was fascinating to see how many times Bubbles evolved yet maintained his distinctive analytic deconstruction of the objects and shapes around him in his everyday life. The point is made continually in the book about how much of a fine artist he is, and the rigour with which he applied his perspectives within ‘acts of design’ certainly testifies to those claims. When I wrote about Bubbles in ’89, I really knew knothing about him, but I had spent so much time looking at his covers convincing myself of what he did or didn’t do. In proof of his astounding cohesion of identity, I got most of them right – not becauase of my eye, but because of his. Peter Saville’s intro also was heartening, and it was great to see how many people were humbled by his artistry. I thank you for these three and many more reasons.

rockpopfashion said,

January 30, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

Thank you very much Philip.

This is praise indeed. Your 1989 piece stood out as a beacon in the development of better appreciation of BB’s work and remains an essential text. It was certainly one of the inspirations for me.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment